Special educational needs budget in Southwark faces £12 million black hole

Schools in Southwark face a £12 million funding shortfall in their special educational needs budget, according to the country’s largest education union.

The Government said it had increased funding since 2015, from £5 billion to £6.3 billion, following demonstrations by parents of children with special educational needs in May.

But the National Education Union says this does not take into account the increase in pupils that schools have to provide for, estimating they now face a funding shortfall of at least £1.2 billion..

Children and young people aged up to 25 who are assessed as having special educational needs are given an Education, Health and Care plan by their local authority.

In January 2015, there were 1,421 youngsters in Southwark with either an EHC plan or their predecessors, which were known as statements of special educational needs.

The budget for high needs pupils in 2015-16 stood at £40.7 million in today’s terms, adjusted for inflation – the equivalent of £29,762 per pupil.

In 2018-19, the budget had only increased by 7%, but the number of pupils needing support had gone up by 43%, to 2,030.

The NEU estimates this meant a real-terms cut of £6,334 in per-pupil funding – the equivalent of an £11.8 million for the 2018-19 year.

Since then, the number of children with an EHC plan has increased by another 10%, reaching 2,238 in January 2019.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “This is clearly a crisis, with pupils and parents bearing the brunt of real-terms funding cuts and the wholly inadequate planning by Government.

“Thousands of children and young people are missing out on the education they need and deserve, causing misery and worry among families struggling to get support for their children.”

The NEU says a lack of funding across the country is now leading to cuts in specialist provision, a loss of specialist support staff, and increased waiting times for assessment.

When a parent asks the council to assess whether their child has additional needs, it must carry out an assessment and draw up a plan within a maximum of 20 weeks. In Southwark, 35% of those referred in 2018 waited longer than this , an increase from 21% the previous year. Of those with an EHC plan, 32, or 1%, were not in education, eployment or training at all.

The Local Government Association said councils were reaching the point where the money “is simply not there”, with special needs support at a tipping point.

Nadhim Zahawi, minister for children and families, said funding for high needs pupils was a priority, and an extra £250 million of funding up to 2020 had recently been allocated.

He added: “At the same time, the Education Secretary has been clear that we are working closely with the sector as we approach the spending review, and we have launched a call for evidence to make sure the funding system is getting money to the right places at the right time.”

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